MCC photo/Gladys Terichow

MCC thrift shop manager Gerry Loewen and Margarite Courchene are pleased that a mural on the thrift shop building is reducing graffiti in this Winnipeg neighbourhood. 

WINNIPEG, MAN.—Margarite Courchene lives alone in the North End of Winnipeg and doesn’t leave her home when it is dark outside.

“I don’t need to watch the news on TV to learn about the crime and violence in this neighbourhood,” she said. “It is in front of me when I look out of my windows.”

But she is not afraid to leave her house during the day when streets are filled with people of all ages and from all walks of life.

Her destination is the Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) thrift shop on Selkirk Avenue—just a short walk from her house. “I come here lots of times, sometimes more than once a day,” she said. “It is a good peaceful place to be.”

Finding things that she would not be able to find anywhere else is not the only reason for her daily visits to the MCC thrift shop. “I always run into my friends and neighbours here—it is a good place to meet people,” she added.

The shop’s manager, Gerry Loewen, said violent crimes in the community affect the well-being of everyone living and working in this historic neighbourhood.   

The important issues for her and others working in the shop are meeting physical, social and emotional needs of people living in the community and participating in community efforts that strengthen community support and a sense of belonging.

The thrift shop, she explained, has developed into an inter-generational meeting place that brings together people who have lived in the city’s North End for many generations. This includes Aboriginal Peoples, newcomers from other countries and people from other communities working for agencies and businesses located near the thrift shop.  

“We are located in a neighbourhood that benefits tremendously from our merchandise,” said Loewen. “We are a very busy store. But even on days that we don’t sell a lot it is busy because it is a meeting place.” 

Proceeds from the sale of the items support MCC projects in other countries, but Loewen said she often reminds her volunteer staff that “it is not just about making money for MCC—it’s about serving people who have witnessed violence or have been victimized.”

Relationships, she explained, are being developed through making efforts to know people by their first names, taking the time to hear their stories and creating an atmosphere that is welcoming and peaceful.

To reduce graffiti and beautify the neighbourhood, the thrift shop participated in the Selkirk Avenue Mural Project, a project planned and implemented in partnership with other community organizations.

These efforts are appreciated by Courchene and others who live in the neighbourhood. “The murals look beautiful, they make the back alley look clean,” she said.

Although there is a lot of visiting and laughing taking place in the shop, the main attraction are the goods donated to the shop.

Reflecting on the items that she has purchased in the thrift shop, Courchene said: “There are only two things in my house that I haven’t bought here—my bedroom suite and dining room table. Everything else that I have in my house I have bought here. I always walk out with something.”

Gladys Terichow is a writer for MCC Canada